Monday, October 31, 2005
I’ve mentioned the See’s Scotchmallow a few times as being the epitome of fine marshmallowyness. So I figured I should probably detail it for folks who have never had one.
First, there are two kinds. There’s the one you can buy pre-packaged like a candy bar, pictured above. It’s 1.5 ounces and clocking in at 113 calories per ounce, for a chocolate treat, it’s pretty low on the calories per ounce. I’ll credit the marshmallow for that. The second kind is the little round one that you can get at the counter by the piece or in the mixed boxes (comes in both the standard mix and the nuts & chews). Not only is it smaller, but it is also cloaked in semi-sweet chocolate, not milk chocolate as the bar is.
Second, See’s makes one of the best caramels available in stores. What is it about them? I think it’s that they actually have carmelized sugar in them. Caramels are rather time consuming and though the ingredients are simple (sugar, corn syrup, milk and butter), they need to be boiled slowly and brought up to temperature. If you don’t boil it long enough or to the right temp, you end up with gooey caramel without much flavor. If you go too long, you get toffee (which is good in its own right). Basically, a good caramel is a chewy toffee. The marshmallow though, is what makes this candy special. And the best thing about the marshmallow is that it has a flavor. It’s not just foamy, gelatinized sugar and egg whites. It has a wonderfully rounded flavor of honey in it which sets off the toasty taste of the caramel and sweet creaminess of the chocolate. Often I’ll eat off the chocolate and caramel and just be left with a honey of a marshmallow heap. Ahhhhh! (I wish the just sold the marshmallows, maybe they have a version of a Peep I should look out for at Easter.)
Third, they’re great quality. They use real ingredients (except for vanillin) and they’re not that expensive. I prefer See’s far and away over Godiva as boxed chocolates from the mall go. Though they’re antiseptic stores, which resemble the school nurse’s office more than a candy shop, they’re a plain old hoot. And when you go into the store, whether you buy something or not, they give you a free sample. (I had a raspberry truffle when I was there on Saturday.)
Stores are found only in the West and Midwest, but you can always mail order.
Rating - 9 out of 10
Friday, October 28, 2005
I was really excited about doing this review. While I enjoy candy of all kinds, especially chocolate, it’s hard sometimes to balance that with not destroying the earth and human lives. Fair Trade is only recently developing as a mainstream option for many products. For those of you not familiar with the concept, first you have to remember that cocoa pods from which chocolate is made are grown in tropical regions all over the planet and require a large amount of space and time to cultivate. Those regions also happen to be ones where farmers are particularly poor and have fewer economic opportunities. I cannot claim to be an expert on this subject, but it seems to me that the folks growing cocoa, which is not necessary for life, should at least be paid a living wage for it and not be exposed to terrible working conditions. Since chocolate and candy is a luxury item, it seems to make the most sense to start with it and coffee and teas as a way of changing the lives of those in these areas.
Of course the most important thing about sending a message with your pocketbook is that the product be good. Good intentions are nice, but if the chocolate isn’t good enough for me to want more, I’m not going to buy it just because it’s the right thing to do because wasting food is also bad. (The next step, of course, is to have it easily accessible, too.) So, instead of skipping to the bottom for the verdict, I’ll say that these are worth the trouble of finding them.
The bars are not only fair trade, but made from all organic ingredients, including the sugar (which is organic raw and unrefined cane sugar) and nuts. Also, for those who are wondering, it’s certified Kosher. Inside the plain wrapper (which has some wonderful information inside about Fair Trade and Equal Exchange) the bar itself is sealed in a mylar like white plastic wrapper that seals out odors and keeps the chocolate fresh. The chocolate is made it Switzerland.
Organic Dark Chocolate with Almonds: a wonderful aroma arose when I opened this package. The chocolate is shiny and smooth and has a great snap and smelled chocolately, a little sweet and perfumy. Inside are lightly crushed (chopped?) almonds. The chocolate itself is 55% cocoa mass and has some wonderful fruity notes like you’d find in a good red wine. Not overly smoky or dry, it has a nice smooth finish was the cocoa mass is exceptionally smooth. For me, this bar rivals the Chocovic Ocumare.
Organic Very Dark Chocolate: incredibly dense, with immediate earthy tones, this is a very dark bar with 71% cocoa mass. The bar has a good snap and an incredibly smooth melt. There’s a noticeable acid note as it yields on the tongue and gives up more fruity flavors like apricot and cherry. The finish is dry and not at all sticky or sweet. But like I experienced with the Chocovic Guaranda, there are no middle notes to round out the flavor.
Organic Milk Chocolate: for fans of dairy milk chocolates, such as Cadbury, you’ll be very happy with this bar. It’s very much in keeping with the traditional Swiss milk chocolate. The first ingredient is not chocolate (that’s 38% though), it’s Whole Milk Powder. So, this is milky stuff, kind of sticky and though not overly sweet, it’s not a good association for me. That aside, this chocolate is exceptionally smooth and has nice cocoa undertones give the whole bar a toasty feeling. I think what does that is that one of the ingredients is ground hazelnuts ... not a lot of it, but it’s a nice nutty complement.
Ratings: Milk & Very Dark - 7 out of 10
Thursday, October 27, 2005
Name: Terry’s Chocolate Orange
When I was a kid, Santa used to bring Chocolate Oranges to us in our stockings. This bar is like that, but not sectioned and spherical, but a heck of a lot easy to stow in your handbag or backpack.
Like many holiday products, it’s the packaging and associations of the season that make them special. Most chocolate Easter bunnies I ate as a child were horrible waxy chocolate but as big as my arm; they were part of the holiday and any holiday that had a large container of candy involved was obviously good. Easter, as the last candy holiday of the year meant that all jelly beans and peeps must be eaten, because there will be no more candy until Halloween. I pretty much feel the same way about chocolate oranges, they’re not necessarily good when you look at them with the analytical eye of sophisticated adult tastes, but nostalgia makes up for a lot of that.
Here are the ingredients: Sugar, skimmed milk powder, cocoa butter, cocoa mass, butterfat, emulsifier (Soya lecithin), flavorings (orange oil, vanillin). See ... it’s sugar and some powdered milk ... then you get to the chocolate part. Terry’s is very sweet, very milky chocolate, and not milk in the sense of that deliciously smooth and creamy stuff, I’m talking that powdered stuff. You know, the stuff you drank when you couldn’t afford real milk. The stuff that reminds you of not being able to afford milk, let alone candy.
All that said, the taste of this is Christmas. It’s sweet and has the wonderful essence of orange (which is a really good complement to chocolate). The bar is delightfully shaped like a bunch of orange sections in a row and you can snap them off almost like the round orange. So just like I can’t help but gnaw on the waxy ears of chocolate rabbits, I can’t help but eat this whole bar even if it did make my teeth hurt.
Rating - 7 out of 10
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
Name: Choxie Chocolates
I was planning on making jokes about what Choxie meant, but then I saw a commercial for it and they said it was “Chocolate with Moxie.” Not to be confused with Mockolate. And it’s not Chalk that’s Toxic or as my neighbor pronounces it ... Choke-see. The other weird thing besides the name is that it’s not on the Target website. You search for Choxie and you get some CDs.
At the urging of several readers I went there this past weekend and bought a variety of the new chocolates. A little tub of Warm Spiced Caramels (9.45 oz for $5), a Hot Chocolate Bar (2.5 oz for $1.80) and a small box of the Artisan Truffle Tiles (3.5 oz for $5). There’s lots more variety there with round truffles and other chocolate covered goodies
Warm Spiced Caramels: I’m in love with these little buggers. They’re smooth caramel with a little spicy flavor. No heat to them, just a little bit like a spiced rum or mulled cider. Very fall-like. The chocolate is smooth and not the slightest bit waxy and not to sticky sweet or milky. I think I’d like them with semi-sweet as well.
Artisan Truffle Tiles: The tiles are all the rage, as far as I can tell. They have that retro styling to them, with the painted tops. The flavors in the 3.5 ounce box are: chili limon, jasmine tea, orange mango, key lime, lemon rose, apple pie, cafe latte and cinnamon praline.
I didn't try the truffles, but I can see the truffles having the advantage of a better ratio of chocolate to filling. Here the filling is about 1/4 of the total of the candy. The chocolate is smooth, but because all the flavors are in the same box, there's a weird sort of jumbled infusion in the chocolate shell ... chocolate is an excellent flavor absorber, and in this case it's absorbed all of them. Perhaps the wrapped truffles don't have this issue. The centers are pretty divine though. The flavors aren't quite as robust as I think I've had at some places like Boule, but for a pre-packaged candy it’s rather nice to have the option of something like Lemon Rose or Chili Limon. Some of the other flavors like apple pie and latte were a little ordinary, but the creaminess of the centers is really the star.
If I were decorating a cake or something, these could be a great, edible addition.
Hot Chocolate Bar: The last, and probably most cost effective pure chocolate candy I found were the bars (the caramels are cheaper by the ounce but not all chocolate). At 2.5 ounces, it’s not a bad deal as candy bars go. If you’ve ever had a Frango, the “truffle” center of this is very similar. Rather firm, but a good instant melt. The flavor is rich with a lot of cinnamon with a little heat from both ginger and chipotle. I wish there were more fire to it and less spice graininess.
Overall, as a hostess gift the packaging is super cute and the quality is good. As fine candy goes, I think I’d still stick with See’s Candies, as they’re quite a bit cheaper though lack those trendy flavors (but their key lime truffle is pretty awesome).
Rating: 7 out of 10
Note: I have a sneaking suspicion that Trader Joe’s ‘Slate of Bliss’ is made by the same people who make Choxie, so I’m digging for more info on that ... maybe I’ll have something later this week.
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
Name: Overload Peanut Butter Cups
In my mind, there is no more perfect melding of chocolate and peanut butter than the Reese’s Miniature (yes, the minis are better than the full-sized cups). I do not pursue anything above that, but in the interest of fairness, I’m giving these Overload thingies a chance to prove themselves.
Overload is three peanut butter cups, each a slight variation on the tried and true original. One with balls of Butterfinger crisps tossed on top, another with some sort of fake m&ms (called ‘candies’) and the last with Buncha Crunch, which are just chocolate covered crisped rice like a Nestle Crunch bar.
First, when I pulled the tray out of the package, I could see that there was some sort of industrial accident. There were little ‘candies’ in ALL of the peanut butter cups and the ‘candies’ one had some buncha crunches in it. So much for segregation.
The chocolate is smooth and sweet, if perhaps a little more of it than a standard Reese’s cup. The peanut butter center is a little smoother than a Reese’s which is neither a good or bad thing, it just is. I kind of like a little grain to my nut butters, but that’s me. It was salty and very roasty tasting. The Butterfinger mixed in with that is a really good combo, a nice variation of smoothness, sweet, a bit chewy later with the Butterfinger and a lingering salty tone. The Buncha Crunch also has a nice texture to it, but in my mind it’s not quite enough crisp to make it through the cup. The ‘candies’ one is just kinda silly - is it the color that’s suppose to impress me or the texture of the candy shells? It’s by far the most chocolately, but the peanut butter part gets kind of lost without a texture to set it off.
These don’t even come close to most other peanut butter and chocolate products for me. The variety was, however, a welcome change when you’re buying a King Size item.
Rating: 5 out of 10 for ‘candies’ and Buncha Crunch and 6 out of 10 for the Butterfinger
Monday, October 24, 2005
Name: Abba Zaba
Again, I grew up on the eastern seaboard, so some of the candies I see on the west coast are unfamiliar to me. Abba Zabas are one of them. I think we had something similar, but I can’t recall what it was. The website for Annabelle’s is quaint, circa 1996, and entirely sincere like the candy. It’s a little disturbing that the ingredients label on the candy spells it Palm Kernal instead of kernel, but I have to admit that many spelling mistakes have made to the screen in this site.
Abba Zabas are a white taffy with a stripe of peanut butter in the center. If you open the package and take it out, it looks like a white subway tile and kind of sounds like one if you whack it on the side of the table. They’re dangerous things, really, the taffy is firm and sticky, so if you have any sort of dental work (fillings, crowns, bridges, dentures) you’re liable to lose it or loosen it. If you have firmly planted teeth, you’re probably their target consumer.
I found the taste to be very nice, the sweet taffy is a really good backdrop to the peanut butter, but I have to admit that I prefer either a hard candy shell on my peanut butter or a molasses chew like Mary Janes or Peanut Butter Kisses. The dental destroying qualities are just too overwhelming for me, so I’ll leave this one to the kids.
Rating - 4 out of 10.
Friday, October 21, 2005
Name: York Peppermint Pattie (Special Edition - Miniatures)
York Peppermint Patties hardly need a review from me. They’re a dense/fluffy minted center with a thin dark chocolate coat.
The reason I bring these up is that instead of the regular market-testing Limited Edition, these pink-centered patties are to raise awareness and money for the Young Survival Coalition.
They’ve been out since this summer, but I’ve yet to see them in any store on the West Coast (okay, I’ve only looked on the coast of California from San Francisco to Los Angeles), these were sent to me by a friend of my sister-in-law in NY. If you find them, grab them. They’re no different than a regular YORK, except for the color. Eat them in the dark if the pink squicks you.
Rating - 10 out of 10 (cancer is bad, breasts are good ... actually I love Peppermint Patties, the miniatures especially)
Thursday, October 20, 2005
These have always scared me. I think because they’re called Chick-o-Sticks and look like they could be chicken legs. Not something I’d consider to be a sweet treat. And let’s face it, the orange color is pretty freaky. The Atkinson site doesn’t really say why they’re called that except that that’s what they’ve always been called.
What they really are is a peanut butter toffee crisp covered in coconut. Pretty simple. A lot like the inside of a Butterfinger bar, but a bit more solid (as you can see in the close up if you click on the photo).
The taste is good, sweet with a nice hit of salt and a really good roasted peanut butter flavor. Even though the coconut looks pretty minimal, the taste is pretty significant. Unlike some of the other crisped peanut butter candies, this one contains no trans fats, in fact the only fat in it comes from the peanut butter itself. They’re much easier to carry around than some chocolate candies because it doesn’t melt, so I can see this being a good treat for hiking or shipping long distances (the Atkinson website mentions shipping them to Iraq).
I know, I need to get a hold of a Clark bar and Zagnut to round out my tour of peanut crisp.
Rating - 7 out of 10
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.